While the winner is being honoured on stage, the riders that have worked for the team all day roll over the finish line. They’re the ones who spent all day in the wind, setting the pace. They attacked and countered, closed gaps, grabbed bottles and did whatever else needed to be done for the team to win.
With room for just one person on each step of the podium, these women – the domestiques – rarely get the attention they deserve. They are the hidden heroes of the peloton, and that’s why we’re putting some of them in the limelight here. Here is part 2 of our Hidden Heroes series.
Lieselot Decroix (Lotto-Soudal)
You often hear of female pro riders that have received a great education and have a back-up plan for when their cycling career is over. Lieselot Decroix of Lotto-Soudal Ladies hasn’t waited until retirement to refocus, she just combines the two. She’s currently a PhD student in sport science at the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels. Her teammates at both the women’s and men’s Lotto-Soudal teams have been willing test objects in the past.
Decroix took a step back from cycling at the end of 2012, not renewing her contract with Dolmans-Boels, as the team was called then. But when new Belgian UCI team CyclelivePLUS-Zannata was announced not much later, Decroix was on their 2013 roster.
She didn’t get to ride a lot of races for them though, as in March of that year, she was hit in her car by a wrong-way driver, breaking both legs and suffering a concussion. She returned in June 2013 at the national road championships, but couldn’t finish the race. Her only results that year were the Lotto-Belisol Belgium Tour in August.
She transferred to Lotto-Soudal in 2014 and now enjoys her third consecutive season with the team– it’s presumably her last season before she retires. She was part of the Belgian équipe at the Olympics in 2008 and no doubt wants to make the Belgian team again this year, after missing out on one of the three spots available for London 2012.
When Decroix made the final break in the Ronde van Gelderland this year, finishing on the podium alongside winner Kasia Niewiadoma (Rabo-Liv) and Natalie van Gogh (Parkhotel Valkenburg), everyone was all too pleased for Decroix, the friendly-faced scientist in the peloton.
Sheyla Gutierrez (Cylance Pro Cycling)
Flick through the Velofocus photos from this year and there is one face at the green-clothed Cylance Pro Cycling team that you’ll see at the front of the peloton very often. It’s Sheyla Gutierrez from Spain, riding for Cylance after three seasons being part of the Lointek Team.
She finished 6th and 7th in the Road World Championships as a junior and was picked up by the Spanish UCI team Lointek when she turned 18. It’s always difficult to make the transition from a junior to elite racer, but Sheyla had some successful races right from the start. She finished 5th at the Spanish road championships in her first year as a pro, managing to get on the podium in 2014 and winning silver in the Spanish ITT championships last year, behind Wiggle-Honda’s Anna Sanchis.
Her win in the UCI1.1 Grand Prix de Plumelec-Morbihan in 2015, plus a podium place in stage 1 of the Tour de Feminin, and a top 10 finish in La Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta all in one year, got her noticed by Manel Lacambra. The DS signed her with his newly set up UCI team at the end of last year.
Sobresaliente victoria de Sheyla Gutiérrez en Plumelec: Sheyla Gutiérrez (Lointek) ha consegudio este fin de s… http://t.co/1FfH6hcKHq
— Ace Sticker (@AceSticker) 1 June 2015
Now part of Cylance Pro Cycling, Gutierrez is the only Spanish rider in the team among American and Italian teammates, and Swiss rider Doris Schweizer.
In the 2016 Flèche Wallonne, part of the inaugural Women’s WorldTour, she managed to join the break of the day, getting herself and the team quite some promotion. With two top 10 finishes at the Tour Femenino de San Luis at the beginning of the year, it looks like another successful season for the 22-year-old. She might develop into a team leader one day, but until that time she’ll work hard to give teammates Shelley Olds, Rosella Ratto and Valentina Scandolara the best opportunity for the win.
Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Wiggle-High5)
Audrey Cordon is the current French individual time trial champion, taking over that title from powerhouse Pauline Ferrand-Prevot in 2015. But when she’s not on the time trial bike, a great team effort is what she aims for and she’s willing to sacrifice her own chances for that.
Having been teammates at Team Hitec before both transferring to the team of DS Rochelle Gilmore, Cordon and Elisa Longo-Borghini truly are ‘BFF’s’. But while Longo-Borghini is one of the team leaders at Wiggle-High5, Cordon is their road captain, usually working for the results of others. But she does have a number of important wins to her name herself, usually several each season and mostly when the race is in her home country, France.
At the women’s Tour de Yorkshire on April 30th, Cordon led out the team to Lucy Garner’s podium finish behind Kirsten Wild (Team Hitec). She was very happy for the young British rider (even though she mentioned the wrong Lucy in her tweet about this race) and can be proud of her contribution to this result.
— Audrey CORDON-RAGOT (@AudreyCORDON) 30 April 2016
One of the reasons for Wiggle-Honda to sign Cordon in 2015 was because she “played a crucial role in the World Championship victory of compatriot Pauline Ferrand-Prevot in Ponferrada, Spain, in September. It is this kind of selfless devotion to her teammates that will make Audrey an indispensable member of Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling in 2015.”
She will probably make the Olympic selection for France, but in order to get to the Olympics best prepared – she hopes to participate both in the road race and time trial – Cordon has started a unique campaign to fundraise the money for her Rio 2016 preparation. With two weeks left to go, Cordon has raised over half of her goal amount.
Demi de Jong (Boels-Dolmans)
Demi de Jong is the younger sister of current world cyclocross champion, Thalita de Jong, and won the U23 jersey in the Road National Championships last year herself. While Thalita signed with top UCI team Rabo-Liv when she turned pro, Demi signed with their Dutch counterpart, Boels-Dolmans, a year later.
When a journalist of a regional newspaper asked the Dutch cyclist whether she would have preferred signing with Rabo-Liv, she jokingly replied: “My sister doesn’t let me.” She added that “Rabo-Liv is too strong for me at this point, I think Boels-Dolmans suits me better”.
The tables have turned a little bit this season, with Boels-Dolmans dominating and Rabo-Liv only having one Women’s WorldTour win so far. Demi is now also one of only three Dutch riders at Boels-Dolmans as the team has internationalised substantially over the last couple of years.
When Luxembourg champion Christine Majerus, who is usually a domestique herself, won Dwars door de Westhoek on April 24th, she thanked Demi in particular for her work in the final:
When her contract extension with Boels-Dolmans was announced, the 2012 junior Worlds time trial bronze medalist expressed her ambitions for this year: “I hope to be able to take it one step further this winter, so that I can contribute to some beautiful results and win a few races myself. I would like to retain my national title with the espoirs; for me, that was the highlight of 2015.”
Joëlle Numainville (Cervélo-Bigla)
Joëlle Numainville is the current Canadian road champion and rides for the Cervélo-Bigla team since 2015. She makes up half of the Canadian contribution to the team this year, as she was joined by Gabriele Pilote-Fortin on the 2016 roster.
As a domestique, it was her job to make sure Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Carmen Small had the best chance to win races throughout the spring. Small had some minor successes, but a Women’s WorldTour victory for the team never happened. Moolman-Pasio didn’t have the best of seasons thus far, but that was certainly not due to the work Numainville did or didn’t do.
The team was quite successful in the Euskal Emakumeen Bira, where Numainville was in the line up. It was Wiggle-High5 versus Cervélo-Bigla in the Spanish stage race, with Lotta Lepistö winning the prologue and both her and Small wearing the leader’s jersey for a day. These results were due to the teamwork at Cervélo-Bigla and the celebration was shared by all within the team.
— Joelle Numainville (@JoNumainville) 15 April 2016
As Canada will probably get to send three riders to the Olympics, Numainville stands a good chance to get selected, which is a big objective for the 28-year-old, as she expressed in an interview on the team website in March of this year. But nothing is certain yet as the country has some other strong riders too, like Leah Kirchmann (Team Liv-Plantur), Karol-Ann Canuel (Boels-Dolmans), Lex Albrecht (BePink) and teammate Pilote-Fortin.
Numainville is already an Olympian, which she is reminded of by the Olympic rings tattoo on her foot. She was part of the Canadian team with Clara Hughes and Denise Ramsden in London 2012, finishing 12th in the road race. That’s a great result and while it doesn’t count toward selection for Rio 2016, the experience of having already been to an Olympics helps.
“It’s a year long process. This year I am much more relaxed about the process because I’ve been through it. You know what the process is, I know exactly what I have to do,” said Numainville. And she has been doing just that, showing her best in every race. We’ll have to wait a little more to see if it was enough for selection in the Olympic team.
Who are your favourite domestiques? Who should we feature in part 3?